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Clue: Kids can, and they do

The school narrative even permeates play spaces created by children

The greatest lesson I have learned from my students is how extremely capable children are at learning on their own! They are using the powerful technology tools available at their fingertips to play, inquire, investigate, research, learn on their own, collaborate and teach each other. They are connecting through their passions, curiosity and creativity. And, they are doing this from an extremely young age!

There has been no better example of this than what has taken place in the Minecraft community. Last fall, Microsoft purchased Minecraft for an unprecedented $2.5 BILLION dollars! While it was a huge news story that left many people puzzled about how a game could command that kind of price tag, the real story was the kids playing the game.

I’ve been following young children’s play in Minecraft since the spring of 2011. When we introduced Minecraft at our school for a 7th grade elective, we made the decision to also offer a 24/7 server for students (with their own accounts) to have a safe place to play after school. The server was initially only intended for only 7th & 8th graders. However, when word got out, it was only a matter of days before students as young as 3rd grade were lobbying to get onto our server. We opened the “Morrowcraft” server for all students grades 3-8 and I started to learn first hand how sophisticated these young students are in the way they learn and network outside of school.

Students were not only teaching each other the community norms established for Morrowcraft, they were delving deep into technical issues of using the platform. From customizing avatar skins to constructing sophisticated in-game machines, the kids taught themselves shared knowledge generously with each other. Several students went further in-depth to learn how to modify the game and even set up their own servers. They researched and utilized both written and video resources. Kids communicated with each other using IM’s, phones, and services like TeamSpeak or Skype. It was eye-opening to witness the depth of their self-directed learning and their ability to teach each other. It’s no wonder that Microsoft recognized the value of tapping this extremely large and savoy user base of young potential customers.

While business has been quick to understand and leverage youth’s appetite for technology and the ease at which they utilize it, education has been largely unresponsive to growing evidence of this fact. Even though research by Sugata Mitra and Nicholas Negroponte document self-directed learning by young children given access to technology tools, it is rarely mentioned in discussions I’ve followed about educational “reform”. Why is that?

I’ve come to believe that, as a society, our collective narrative of what “education” looks like is so embedded into our cultural psyche that we can no longer imagine, recognize or value the learning taking place outside of that institution. I understand why adults hold this perception to be true. What puzzles me is that students also accept this as a truth. I have marveled time and time again as I witness a disconnect between the incredible things kids learn and do on their own, and how willingly the accept our expectations of them at school even though we require them to power down. Where is their frustration? Where is the outrage? Why don’t they question this?

I have started to see the first cracks in this long-held narrative. That give me hope that it is just a matter of time before teachers start to “get it” and/or students start to demand better learning experiences in school that reflect the kind of learning that they are doing outside of school. One teacher at a time. One student at a time. I do believe that the shift will come… eventually. It has to, right?

Kids can, and kids do learn on their own. This is one of the most important clues I have discovered on my journey. I will be delving much deeper into my observations, questions and ponderings throughout this journal. Stay tuned!


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